Car Seat Distribution Programs

Did you know vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American children? That is in comparison to childhood accidents and diseases. Nearly 120,000 children are injured each year as a result of motor vehicle accidents. When car seats are used properly the risk of catastrophic injury or death is drastically reduced, almost 70 percent according to studies from the American Society for the Positive Care of Children.

However, knowing you need a car seat for your child is one thing. Affording an expensive car seat is another reality. Car seats, on average, begin with a $100 price tag and only go up from there. Luckily, there are several programs to help lower income families obtain free or low-cost car seats to use with their children. Some programs rent the car seats to families while others either give you the car seat outright or charge you a drastically reduced price for it. Along with the seats come personal instruction on how to install and use the car seats. Often these programs are sponsored or offered through your local hospitals, community organizations or insurance companies. Additionally, if you are on some form of government subsidy, such as Medicaid or WIC, you may automatically qualify for a car seat distribution plan. The following car seat distribution programs offer low cost or no cost car seats for children. Most are available widely throughout the U.S.

Car Seat Distribution Programs

Distribution programs make car seats available to parents for their children. There is no income requirement, so literally anyone with a child is eligible to visit a distribution location to receive a car seat. Distribution points are offered in many places throughout a state. Oftentimes, it is offered through the local fire or police station. Other states offer car seats through participating insurance agencies. However, low income families may still incur a charge for a full seat, even if at a greatly reduced price. In most states, in exchange for receiving the car seat at the reduced rate participants are required to watch an informative film, showing how to properly adjust and install the seat.

Car Seat Rental Programs

If you do not qualify for a reduced cost car seat you may still qualify to rent a car seat for a short period. Short term car seat rental programs are available to give you a car seat to use until you can obtain your own car seat. These seats are usually convertible seats, facing backward for newborns, and forward for children who meet the weight requirements. Booster seats for younger children who weigh 80 pounds or less and are under five feet tall are also available.  Many states operate both a rental and a free giveaway program.

The Car Seat Safety Program

All states offer some version of the car seat safety program. This program is usually offered through the local health department. Each state and local department determines the qualifications necessary. In general, most require you to meet the following requirements:

  • Be a resident of the county where you apply
  • Be a legal guardian for the child
  • Currently receive government aid (WIC, TANF or Medicaid)

Where to Apply for a Car Seat Distribution Program

Each state offers car seat distribution in different ways. Most use their social services departments (DSS), however some states partner with local non-profit agencies or charities to offer car seats. Texas, for example works with various nonprofits like the Salvation Army to provide seats to low income families.

Your case worker is an invaluable resource. If you are already receiving SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid or are enrolled in some form of public aid then the program itself often has funding available to provide car seats to families in need. Most require you to meet basic eligibility guidelines, including income. Others require, in addition to the low-income guideline, that you attend a short video series or lecture on child car seat safety.

National Networks for Car Seat Distribution

Baby2Baby is a nongovernmental program that not only helps low income families obtain car seats, but also helps to provide necessities such as clothing and diapers. This organization is operated nationwide and partners with different on-the-ground non-profits in your area.

If you are currently receiving a state funded health plan, you may be eligible to get a free car seat for your child. Check with your health care provider or contact the Medicaid offices for more information. If you qualify you may be able to get a car seat free of charge. Medicaid operates its car seat distribution programs in accordance to national guidelines.

Other governmental departments to check with in your state include the following:

  • Department of Health
  • Social Services
  • Department of Public Safety
  • Division of Motor Vehicles

Depending on your state, one or all of these governmental departments offer a car seat distribution program. A quick internet search yields the contact information so you can quickly find out when the next car seat event will take place. Many states, such as South Carolina, offer multiple programs aimed toward providing the funds for securing a safe car seat for your child. The Women, Infant and Children Program (WIC) offers a nationwide car seat distribution program for beneficiaries enrolled in the program. Participants must enroll and attend a program on car safety with children. Upon completion, participants receive a voucher to redeem for a free car seat.

SafeKids Worldwide is an organization operating in all 50 states. They routinely operate a car seat checkup event where existing car seats are checked for safety. However, during these events you can also get more information about getting a free seat. Depending on the state you reside in, the seat may be free or low cost. Each state’s coalition has its own set of qualifying guidelines. Most qualifying agencies may require you to provide proof of Medicaid, WIC or SNAP participation. Some states require you to provide a referral from your doctor or other agency first.